You’re going to see a weird viral video today. It’s going to make you scrunch up your eyebrows, lean in close to your screen, then lean far, far away—and when it’s all over, you’ll wonder if you’ve transcended this mortal plane altogether.
It’s called Too Many Cooks and it aired on Adult Swim at 4 a.m. for a week straight at the end of October—wedged somewhere between infomercials and insomnia. Squidbillies writer Chris “Casper” Kelly is the man behind the late-night spoof, which begins as a harmless parody of cheesy ’80s sitcom intros before it becomes something much, much more disturbing. (He calls his style “absurdist and dark;” that’s the understatement of the year.)
EW talked to Kelly about his mindf–k of a short, which is taking the Internet by storm even as we speak.
EW: Where did this idea come from?
CASPER KELLY: I think it was probably one of those shower ideas that you don’t know what to do with, and I knew Adult Swim was making 11-minute shorts…and also, I’m just a fan of that kind of humor where you repeat something ad nauseum and then it becomes funny again. I’ve never done that, and I wanted to try that. But it’s a little scary because it’s dangerous territory. I mentioned it to some coworkers here at Adult Swim, and they called it to my boss, and he said “Do it.”
How did you even word that original pitch?
I said, “It’s basically a show open, a fake sitcom where characters look and smile and their name comes up, and then it just doesn’t stop.” And he said, rightly, “That’ll get you about four minutes, but you’re going to need to start zigging and zagging after that.” And he was right. As soon as you get the idea of the pattern that we’re changing genres, then you want to zag it again, just when you start to get bored.
So Adult Swim has been doing 4 a.m. shorts? I may be out of the loop here, but tell me about this little chunk of programming.
It started off with fake infomercials to air at 4 a.m., and I think we did nine of them, just for people to stumble across and be confused. That’s the kind of thing that amuses us at Adult Swim. I had an idea that wasn’t an infomercial, but they had infomercial money and the slot, so they let me take it.
What kind of budget did you have? How long did it take to film?
I don’t know the exact budget. I know it was super-low because it was infomercial money—money where you’re meant to just have a person talking with a product. But I called in favors with production companies. I do a show called Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell and that uses a lot of special effects, so I used them for the effects, and a company called Fake Wallpaper to do the shooting. We shot it over two days and maybe one pick-up day. We didn’t hire actors. We had a few actors, but most people were just extras, so we worked hard to get the right look. We said, “We can’t pay you much, but you will get a screen credit.” A lot of people were really excited about that.
Wait, those names are real?
Most of them are real names. I think they all are. I thought about doing joke names. We tried it, but then you ended up just reading the credits, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted it to just wash over you entirely.
I’m sorry, you’re telling me Gwydion Lashlee-Walton is a real name?
That’s real. He’s cool enough to pull it off.
So did these actors really know what they were signing up for?
Uhh…no, I don’t think so. [laughs] But they do now. We had to do a split-screen with the topless woman and the charades because there were kids on the couch.
What does this all mean? People are going to dissect this thing and pull out the themes and deeper implications. What do you want the takeaway to be?
That’s a tough one. Here’s what it is: I’m a fan of David Lynch and Charlie Kaufman and Tim and Eric, and I wanted to try to do something weird like that. I was working intuitively, and there’s a quote Elvis Costello has that I really like. He said, “You start out imitating your heroes, and the way you f–k up becomes your style.” I was just working on a feeling, working intuitively. I could analyze it but that’s how I approached it originally. I look forward to reading all the analyses.
Is it more than a satire for you?
I definitely hope it is more than a satire of intros, and taking it to a dark place, and that contrast of the chipperness of a sitcom and the darkness when a structure breaks down. I’m going to sound pretentious in anything I say, but also I didn’t think people were going to want to watch it more than once. I was worried that all that stuff I snuck in would be missed. I was like, should I put arrows in? Should I color it lighter so people will notice? I’m really happy to see that people are looking at it so carefully.
Do you have a favorite gag?
It was late and I had to beg to do it, but I really love the idea of the girl hiding in the closet with the credits, and he sees the credits shining through. I had to beg, “Can we please shoot this too?” I’m glad they let me, because that was one of those ideas I kept getting up until the day of shooting. You don’t know how much you’re going to need or how much you can just repeat the beginning.
What kind of research did you do here to get the tone right?
We researched songs that people forgot about. Small Wonder was very stiff and funny, but it was funny to look into, and I did love doing the science fiction stuff. And even a lot of shots. There’s some TJ Hooker shots we mimic exactly, just to get the feel right. And it was amazing what you can get away with with no money. The shot of the cops sitting, getting briefed… there was nothing around there. That was just people standing real close together, and you totally buy it as a police briefing room! You know what I mean?
Any sequel plans?
It’s possible. It’s been so well-received that anything could happen. I definitely want to make more short stuff in addition to Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.
Has your mother seen this video?
She loves me, but maybe the stuff is too inappropriate for her. We’ll see what she says!